Editorial: seattletimes.nwsource.com, January 16, 2011

Education reform proposals, including charters, could improve Washington state
Education reforms proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire and the state Legislature should gain traction. Charter schools and better principal and teacher evaluations are critical improvements.

A SLEW of education reforms proposed to the state Legislature signal a chance to get real work done this session.

Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, and Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, provide a bipartisan and bicameral approach for smart reforms. Their proposals would allow charter schools, establish a process to intervene when schools fail and continue strengthening principal and teacher performance reviews.

Expect contentious debate. In particular, the teachers union sees charter schools as a threat. Yes, Washington state voters rejected charter-school proposals three times. But we know a lot more about these innovative public schools since the last failed measure in 2004.

The current proposal offers a thoughtful entry into charters. Only 50 would be allowed in the state — with no more than 10 new ones authorized each year. Each would be required to adopt a specific plan to serve educationally disadvantaged children.

Nationally, about 20 percent of charter schools have been found to do a better job of educating students than public schools. Part and parcel of bringing charters to this state is to learn what those successful charters are doing and do it here.

The new teacher and principal evaluations will be more rigorous, moving from the limited choice between "unsatisfactory" or "meets expectations" to a four-tiered structure offering more rounded, useful assessments. Evaluation results would replace seniority in determining layoffs, a shift that keeps the most effective teachers in the classroom.

The overhaul is as much about helping teachers improve as it is about getting rid of the ineffective ones.

Political courage is often lacking in Olympia, making Pettigrew's willingness to buck the Democratic Party's usual fidelity to the Washington Education Association all the more striking. Schools in Litzow's Eastside district are among the top-rated in the state but the lawmaker understands the need to improve public education everywhere in this state.

Other lawmakers should take note of these two and follow suit.

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